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What Makes Good Writers Stand Out?
The never ending question...
What makes a good writer?
For the longest time I've had people ask me how much training or education you have to get to become a good writer. In other professions, it seems like once you graduate school, or receive a couple of good years of technical college, you should be on your way to be a professional in what you do. People that actually work on those fields would know that this isn't true. In reality, we never stop learning. We learn from others in the practice of our professions, we continue to learn new tricks, people gives us tips, and we assist to seminars to better ourselves. From teachers to firemen, we all need a little bit of training in our field every now and then to keep our knowledge fresh. Writing isn't any different. There will never be enough amount of schooling to transform someone into a good writer. There will never be a definitive advise that will change your writing and make it awesome. Creative Writing and other writing programs in universities and colleges are not meant to form great writers and prepare them for the challenges of the career. They are there only to teach the basics. The rest is up to us. Then, what really makes a good writer? Well, in my years of learning the craft, I have found that there are 7 characteristics that divide great, awe inspiring, and overall excellent writers from decent writers.
A good writer...
Sounds redundant, I know, but this is the truest thing out there. Good writers write often. An awesome writer writes everyday. Dedication is key to have more than an average grade in this craft. This is a career that will take a lot of your time. Many people would tell you that writing every day is not possible. Some days you will wake up feeling sick, you will realize that your computer is not working correctly, and some other days you won't feel like writing. Writing everyday sounds like an impossible task, because we all know that life happens and it won't let you write. However there are many ways to write even in the most difficult days. For example, you can write in a notebook if the situation with your computer is not improving. You can also go to a public library and write on Google Docs, they'll lend you a computer. If you feel sick, at least try to get some words in. A paragraph or two will be more than what you had before. Maybe you will write something pretty amazing under the influence of cough medicine and fever, who knows? And if you don't feel like writing, do it still. Probably you will write something that is not very good because you didn't feel like it, but you can always edit later.
Whenever you are not writing you should be reading. A good writer always reads. We can always learn from other writers. We learn new tricks, how to manage a scene or certain points of view. We can learn how to deal with some difficult themes that perhaps we don't know how to approach. We can even learn how to deal with taboos in writing from other pieces of literature. It is important to read inside the genre you write in, but don't be afraid to mix things up. If you write Fantasy, you might be able to learn a thing or two from other types of literature. Perhaps you need to learn how to make a scene or a story more thrilling, nothing will do you better than reading some psychological thriller. Maybe you need help to learn how to write exposition and set out the rules of your universe. Science fiction can help with that. Reading inside your genre can show you how to handle certain devices that are common in that specific class. Reading outside your genre can teach you how other writers utilize certain tools in their kind of work, and whatever you learn you can get creative and apply it to your own writing.
Also, never forget to read your classics. Read a little bit of Dickens, Poe, and Medieval Literature. Learn about these texts and see why they are timeless. Put a little bit of what you learn from classics in your own work. This can be beneficial to make your stories timeless.
Besides reading books, a good writer also inverts time reading writing materials. Ask almost every serious writer and you will find they have a subscription to a writing magazine, or podcast that teach about writing. These magazines will not only help you learn about seminars near you or neat contests. These magazines teach you how to improve your writing skills, interviews with agents, and they teach you about the publishing process. Podcast can do the same for you.
3. Takes time to edit
Part of being a good writer is taking time to edit your work. Good edition skills are good to have in order to be good writer. However, editing your own work, or editing in general might be a challenge for many of us. Once we finish writing we might be excited to publish our work, start sending queries to agents and magazines, or just to pat ourselves on the back for a piece well written. Nevertheless, it is important to take a step back to analyze our work and make any important arrangements, or perhaps drastic changes. After working for several days in a project what we think worked for our piece might not work after we read it. This is why rewriting should be a part of any writers editing process. Good tips to use when editing that I have learned during the years are:
Let your writing rest for a day or two before going back to edit it. That way you can go back to your work with a fresher mind and you can form a new perspective o what you've written.
Read your work out loud, and have somebody else read it back to you. When we are writing it is easy to lose ourselves in our own words and the writing voice in our heads. Hearing your work out loud can help you to spot errors in speech and coherence. Reading out loud to yourself helps, but having somebody else read it can be even more helpful, because other people can spot mistakes that don't stand out to you. I know that getting someone to red your work back to you every time you write something can be difficult, as we don't always have someone with us willing to help. For cases like this, I recommend investing in a text-to-speech software. You can copy and paste your work and the software would read it back to you in a sort-of-human voice. It is not as good as having a real person help you, because the software won't spot additional errors for you, but it is still very helpful.
Read your work backwards. This means to go at the end of your written piece and read it sentence by sentence, trying to spot any mistakes and solving them. For example, let's say your last paragraph says: “In conclusion, the new Avengers movie promises to be a complete disappointment. This prediction is based for the poor integration of female characters that past films have exhibited. The patriarchal attitude of the genre of superhero movies promises to still prevail in the new film Avengers: Age of Ultron”. To edit your last paragraph you will start with the last sentence “The patriarchal attitude of the genre of superhero movies promises to still prevail in the new film Avengers: Age of Ultron”. and continue with the previous sentence and so on. Why start at the end? Your brain already has the structure of the text memorized because you have read it again and again, so starting at the end will restart your memory and instead of overlooking any mistakes you already have overlooked, you will find new ones.
4. Is always prepared
This means you are always ready to write. Always carry a pen and paper, or if you are an app lover, have an app on your mobile device to write on. Even writing an e mail to yourself in your phone can be useful. Just carry something with you so you can write while waiting in line at the bank, during lunch time, or waiting for your kids to finish piano/karate/soccer/ whatever-kids-do-this-days practice. That way, no matter what life throws at you, you an always jot down ideas, or continue with your story.
5. Takes serious advice
A good writer always takes and gives advice to others. However, not all advice is meant to be taken or given. Whatever advice you receive as a writer, measure it and decide if this a piece of advice that will help you and your particular way of writing. For example, many veteran writers advice you to have a writing routine. This may include making a coffee or tea, having something specific to eat, or going to a special writing place. Many people even have writing clothes. Having a writing ritual means training your brain with positive reinforcement to let it know it is time to write. This can be great for people that have an organized life, people with tight schedules, people who love routines. However, if you are anything like me, your life isn't the same thing everyday, or maybe you struggle to keep all your responsibilities in order because it is not in your nature to be organized. If this is the case, you write when you can, where you can. A writing routine wouldn't be beneficial because what happens when you can't do whatever your ritual demands you to do? Your brain will struggle to stay in line and write. This is why it is important to learn which is your writing groove, or in other words, what works for you and your writing.
6. Has something to say
An important fact to remember about writing is that we are not entertainers, nor artists, we are teachers. Writing is meant to inform, sow knowledge and reflexion in the minds of our readers. Writing can be fun and entertaining, but good writing is about something else. A writer without something to say will deliver trendy stories that will banish away with the thousands upon thousands of bad stories. A good writer doesn't write to sell or to be famous. A good writer writes because he has something to say.
7. Never stops learning
A good writer understands that we are in a business where no one gets to be perfect. Meaning, we never stop learning. If you come to a point in your writing career where you think there is nothing else to learn about writing or crafting stories, check again. There are endless list of techniques, forms, voices, plot lines, and tools that we can learn and experiment with. There are a lot of bad writers out there. Their problem is that writing is mostly a craft, and they don't want to learn it. They want to have things written, and the privileges that come with it. But the truth about good writing is different. Every little time you put into learning this craft, puts you a step further from the crowd.